, Newburyport, MA

November 26, 2012

Former school heads rehired on per-diem basis

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — The Amesbury school system has brought back two high-ranking school officials, rehiring both retired Amesbury High School Principal Les Murray and retired Superintendent David Jack within the past couple months on a part-time basis.

According to Superintendent Michele Robinson, Murray is working as a special education consultant, while Jack is filling in as the interim business administrator for the schools until new Assistant Superintendent Deirdre Farrell is able to start in mid-December.

Jack served as superintendent of schools in Amesbury from 2009 to 2011, and prior to that, he worked as assistant superintendent of finance, while Murray spent a decade in the Amesbury school system. According to Robinson, Jack is earning $690 a day in his role, while Murray is making $500 a day on an as-needed basis.

“It will be ongoing for the year, but as needed, not every day,” Robinson said of Murray.

Both men retired on July 1, 2011 and are still collecting pensions through the state. According to the state Open Checkbook website, Murray is collecting an $86,710 annual pension, while Jack is collecting $47,850 annually.

Robinson said that Murray was brought in about a month ago to help facilitate the district’s special education students who are on Individualized Education Programs. One of his primary responsibilities is to represent the city in IEP meetings.

“There are a series of meetings annually where you have to check in and make sure the services they’re receiving are meeting their individual needs,” Robinson said. “These are laws and procedures that are governed by the federal government.”

Over the past year, the Amesbury school system has been working to expand its special education program to lessen having students placed out-of-district, which can be very costly to the schools. Last year, six special education students were placed in out-of-district schools, including three who required one-on-one services and transportation. The total price tag wound up being $365,768, or $60,961 per student.

To combat the volatility of special education costs, the school system made keeping special education students in-district a priority. School officials approved a budget increase of $600,000 in February that included funds to hire a special education facilitator for each school to make sure student education plans are being followed.

Mayor Thatcher Kezer said Murray was hired to serve that purpose and to help build the school’s special education capacity.

“Part of the reason we did the $600,000 in increased revenue to the schools was to give Michele Robinson the means to start creating programs in-house for special ed, and Les has a very strong background in that area,” Kezer said. “Not only was he a high school principal, but he specialized in that area. So he’s on a consultant basis helping us out.”

Robinson added that it’s important that the school dedicate the same level of attention to the students who are out-of-district as the ones who are in-district.

“We need to make sure that we are there,” Robinson said. “We have to make sure that the same sort of attention is paid to our students who are going to other locations as to the students who are here in the district.”

Jack was brought in late in the summer after former business administrator Mike Bergeron announced he was leaving the district to take a similar position in the Pentucket School District. Ironically, Jack was serving as interim business administrator there at the time, so he moved over to Amesbury to hold down the fort until a permanent replacement could be found.

In mid-October, Amesbury hired Deirdre Farrell from Newburyport, where she had been serving as assistant superintendent. Farrell will become assistant superintendent in Amesbury starting in mid-December, and her duties will encompass those of the business administrator. Jack will stay on until then.

“He’s helping us with the day-to-day, but also with making the transition,” Robinson said. “It’s been wonderful because David is obviously very familiar with the district.”